Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer

I watched The Maltese Falcon again last night for the nth time. What a movie: where is John Huston when we need him? Perhaps my great weakness as a poet is that my writing is more influenced by The Maltese Falcon and Bringing Up Baby than “Meditation at Lagunitas” or “Mock Orange” or “Howl,” more influenced by the voices of Peter Lorre and Rosalind Russell than Robert Pinsky or Adrienne Rich. Is there any news (other than the election) more exciting than the recent release of a restored version of Renoir’s Rules of the Game?

I’m exaggerating but I think one thing about these films that’s directly relevant to poetry is their rhythm and speed. How I love those fast-talking guys and gals! How I love them especially after going to one too many poetry readings in that slo-mo style we’re so familiar with: “So much depends [pause] upon [pause] a red wheel [pause] barrow [pause] glazed [pause] with rain [pause] water [pause] beside the white [pause] chickens.” Of course Williams himself (if you listen to the old recordings) did not read his poems this way at all—it’s a contemporary affectation. Do poets think the audience is too dumb to follow the poem unless they talk ... really ... slow?

I love to imagine Bogart reading the lines instead: “Yes, angel, I’m going to send you over. So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” The film even makes fun of its speed when Bogart fast-talks the cops and then says to the stenographer, “You getting this alright, son, or am I going too fast for you?” And the kid replies, along with us in the audience, “No sir, I’m getting it alright.”

1 comment:

Diane K. Martin said...

I watched Maltese Falcon too. My 24-year old son was over with his fiancée, and they watched it with me. I'm not sure I can say that those movies directly influenced my poetry, except in a general way, but I can tell you that when my son was little, I made him watch Maltese Falcon and told him he would understand cartoons much better. Do you have any idea how many cartoons take off from this movie? So the general culture is definitely affected by these old movies.

After MF, we watched the Thomas Crowne Affair, the 1968 version, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and while MF just feels old and classic, The Thomas Crowne Affair was way dated. We howled with laughter at the plaid couch, Dunaway's baby doll outfits, the musical montages, (what passed for experimental) photography, and especially the chess scene. As as for pacing, well, there wasn't any.